The Art of Living with Ourselves
Wilferd A. Peterson


Wrote the poet and mystic Maeterlinck:  "The thoughts you think will irradiate you as though you are a transparent vase."  We radiate what we are and so it is more important to be than to get, to become than to possess.  People tune in to our inner wave length.  There is much wisdom in the old Hindu saying:  "Beware, beware, what goes forth from you will come back to you."

As a boy I learned a little rhyme that I have never forgotten:  "Don't be a veneer stuck on with glue, be solid mahogany all the way through."

Our first task then, in living with ourselves, is to be ourselves, to be genuine and sincere, to go forth to others as the persons we truly are without sham or pretense.  Beyond this our task is to grow in mind and spirit.

While driving on the Ohio Turnpike I saw a sign exhorting drivers.   "Stay Awake, Stay Alive," it cried.  These words, it seems to me, have even deeper significance as a way of life.  The more awake we are to what goes on around us the more alive we will be.  Being wide awake opens the way to experiencing the infinite riches of body, mind, heart and spirit.

We do not sufficiently use the senses God has given us.

The magazine ETC, the quarterly review of the International Society of General Semantics, devoted a full issue to the subject of LSD and other psychedelic drugs.

Editor S.I. Hayakawa made this vital point:  "Most people haven't learned to use the senses they possess.  I not only hear music, I listen to it.  I find the colors of the day such vivid experiences that I sometimes pound the steering wheel with excitement.  And I say why disorient your beautiful senses with drugs and poisons before you have half discovered what they can do for you?"

The great mystics did not fog up the windows of heaven with drugs.  They did not distort their visions with poisons.  They found their own senses and their perceptive ad intuitive powers sufficient to experience the Presence of God.

To make the most of ourselves we must become aware of the miracles all around us.  We must open our eyes, ears, minds, hearts, spirits.  We must think about great ideas such as space illimitable, time everlasting, energy inexhaustible.  You have the magic power within yourself to broaden your horizons, to lift your consciousness, to live more abundantly.

To learn to live with ourselves we must often get away by ourselves so we can find quiet, solitude, and time to think and meditate.

The poet Robert Frost stressed the importance of separateness.  He told a group, of which I was a part, that we must be careful that we do not homogenize society as we homogenize milk. . . so the cream at the top disappears.  The heart and the lungs work together, he explained, but they are also separate organs.  A person, he said, should endeavor to achieve separateness in his or her thinking, even amidst the pressures of the crowd.  And often we may experience a greater feeling of togetherness with people when we are separate and alone, rather than with others.  We must learn to live together, but we must not lose the precious gift of separateness.

The growth of the self, however, is not accomplished only in solitude and isolation.  Aloneness must be balanced with contacts with people and the world.  There is need to try out our ideas on others, to sharpen our minds, to contend with those who disagree with us.  We can learn from our enemies as well as our friends, and often those who are hardest on us contribute more to our growth than those who make things easy for us.

I have always liked these words attributed to Walt Whitman:  "Have you learned lessons only of those who admired you and were tender with you and stood aside for you?  Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed the passage with you?"

The self needs the spur of conflict, competition, even defeat, for out of those come strength and character.

Heed these words by Epictetus:  "So when the crisis is upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a tough and stalwart antagonist--that you may be a winner at the Great Games."

The art of living with ourselves also requires that we be resilient and flexible so we will not break ourselves against the hardness of life.  I learned this important lesson from a naturalist in Bryce Canyon, Utah.  I asked him about the gallant lone pines on the mountaintops that survive the full sweep of wind and storm.

I was told that the pines are called Limber Pines.  To demonstrate, the naturalist took a branch of a Limber Pine and tied it into a knot.  In a few minutes he untied the knot and the branch immediately sprang back to its original position.

It is not through never bending that the trees survive.  It is in never failing to spring erect again after the gale has passed that victory is achieved.

Resiliency is also an important factor in the art of living with ourselves.  The winds of life--the conflicts, pressures, changes--will bend us, but if we have resiliency of the spirit they cannot break us.  To courageously straighten up again after our heads have been bowed by defeat, disappointment and suffering is a supreme test of character.

To learn to live with ourselves, to make the most of ourselves, to achieve wholeness of personality, to grow into more effective human beings--this is the first vital step in the art of living.

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To learn more about Wilferd A. Peterson, click here.


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